Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Life Lesson from Great Wolf Lodge

Alex wiped out from water park fun
At first this might seem like a little bit of a superficial story but I can assure you this has great meaning in our lives. We kept asking other parents which water park we should take the kids to this year.  Our kids love the water and swimming and we've never been to a water park before.  We received all sorts of input, and saw everyone's awesome pics on Facebook, and finally took the kids to Great Wolf Lodge.  We knew it would be a challenge with 3 kids, ages 8, 5, and 3, and that they would certainly run off to 3 different places once in the water park.  We talked my sister, my brother in law, my nieces and nephew into going.  We literally couldn't have gone there without them!  Thank you so much to them!!  They made the trip fun, and really possible.  I should mention too that I was so impressed with the life guards there, what a well run and serious operation.

Dan was with Alex most of the time, and I was with Nick while Jack was running from ride to ride.  As parents we always align ourselves to the child whose weight and strength we can handle, as these guys grow my abilities become more and more limited!  We started to relax and really enjoy these precious childhood moments.   There are tons of parents and grandparents there and it's a great anthropological exercise on how people parent.  That's when I saw this beautiful Mom walking casually through the water park with her daughter.  There were a lot of Dads stealing a glimpse of this lady. She was one of those Moms who was unbelievably gorgeous, dark hair, tan, the whole package.  This Mom was so beautiful she was wearing a Target bikini and making it look like it was custom made for her.  If you've been inside Target this season, it's the turquoise polka dot bikini front and center in their bathing suit section.  At first she appeared just to be a regular Mom, but then we saw her at the snack bar.  Jack and Nick hadn't made their choices yet so I told beautiful Mom that she could go ahead of us.  She approached the snack bar, and I noticed that her daughter started to fling her head all over in excitement, and was having trouble controlling her body. Her daughter was a special needs child afflicted with some terrible condition.  As I watched them ahead of us at the snack bar, I saw her Mom pick out ice cream which made her daughter shake even more and rock.  The Mom ordered a light beer for herself. Then picked up her goods, and slowly and casually extended her left arm back as if she was just escorting her daughter off to a dance.  Her daughter placed her arm in hers, the Mom picked up her beer, and then went along laughing and smiling off to enjoy both of their treats.  Their walk was slow, and beer was spilled but the Mom looked confident, joyful, and appeared to not care that everyone was looking at her.  Was this Mom thinking well just go ahead and enjoy the view?  A simple scene of course but this really hit home with me, I am always proud of my kids but relaxed, casual and in control is something that's just evolving in our world of living with Hunter Syndrome...and really, 3 boys.  What I took away from this Mom was that I can take very good care of myself, I can be casual with my kids in public, I don't have to sprint after them or apologize all the time if something isn't perfect or possibly what people expect.

By looking for just a few moments through this woman's window into her world, I learned a whole bunch about mine.  I can have a light beer, and relax and enjoy life!  When things get hard, it's so easy to stay in your home, and frankly hide from the world.  Difficult diseases demand a lot including time and attention, things happen, and many times things don't go to plan or you're surprised by surgeries or hospital visits, yep in the moment these need your attention but in times when life might be at a steady pace it's not a bad idea to take care of yourself.  I've been running a lot to take care of myself, and leave some stress on the treadmill or pavement, and it feels great! My time doesn't come easy but I have learned I have to take it or I'll never, ever get it!  Somehow I am not selfish enough, and there's always something I place as a priority over me. Just even writing me, me, me feels selfish.  I am so proud of these Moms and especially proud of Moms and Dads with special needs or medically challenged children.  I often hear one my friends call his wife a MILF, and that makes me happy because they remember who they are and it shows their strength and love for one another.  Whether you're a MILF on the inside, a MILF on the outside, or lucky enough to be both, I am so proud to see you all go out there and get life!

As Dr. Dre puts it, "By no means average She's on when she's got to have it Baby you're a perfect 10, I wanna get in Can I get down so I can win" 

Dan, my husband, still says to this day that he has no idea who I am talking about which is funny because I think just about everyone in the entire water park saw this gal.  We'll let him think I believe that (he proofs this blog with his input too).  For that single day of joy and enlightenment, I want to thank the turquoise polka dot bikini lady for making me see what's possible!  Thank you, you've just made my family's life and mine a whole lot clearer and better!  We've been taking the kids to more events, keep challenging and pushing ourselves to get out and about and enjoy the world!  We revel in every event we're able to complete with 3 to even 7 boys in tow!  Like the recent monster truck event we went to, who knows maybe we're even working up to boarding a plane and finally taking a much needed vacation this year!  We're not going to put any limits on the possibilities.  Sometimes it takes seeing someone else in action to know what you're capable of as well.
Nicholas & his cousin

The Cherrstroms

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why We Live in Cleveland - Part II

The Real Story - Part II

When we arrived in Cleveland, we didn't have a home to move into yet.  My grandma graciously vacated her condo so we'd have temporary housing until we found a house.  Her place is great and she loves it very much.  All of her neighbors are about 80 years old and up, so it's a perfect place to move a family of five.  I am not making any of this up. One day we were outside with my grandma and a hearse drove by and Jack asked what's that car.  An elderly lady had passed away just a few condos away from us and the hearse was picking her up.  My grandma told Jack someone died and told us that was a regular occurrence around there with old people. The kids had a blast in her condo though.  They loved it.  Alex found a bird feeder with a silver pole positioned directly outside a retired man's window to slide down like a fire pole.  He's quite girthy so the feeder would sway giving to his weight.  The man came out and wrapped caution tape all around it like there had been an accident, and only grunted or shuffled away when we tried to talk to him. Everyone was pretty friendly but it was clear we didn't fit with this crowd, and we weren't making many friends.

There was also a lot of fishing done by the boys in the nearby pond.

Growing up during the depression makes my grandma a very thrifty lady, nothing goes to waste including her garage.  For my home office, she set up a bunch of old furniture in her garage where I could shut the doors and have complete privacy.  That's right when in town, I was working out of a garage.  Big things start out of garages and I embraced my garage office except when the lawn service would come through mid-conference call and I'd have to run into the laundry room to hide from the noise of the leaf blower.  Otherwise it was a great office!
Nick at Great Lakes Science Center

On the weekends we didn't know what to do with ourselves so we gravitated toward the city.  We'd go to
Tremont and play in the play lots outside Cleveland City Schools, and that lovely Lincoln Park.  We went to the Aquarium, the Great Lakes Science Center, and the Natural History Museum.  We've been to the Q quite often, and the friendliness of their staff is wonderful, and it makes for such a nice experience!  We're only a short drive away from Cedar Point, and frankly going there with Jack is the most fun I've ever had, ever!  Kiddie Park is adorable. Ah, and Lake Erie is close by and it's quite beautiful!

Jack at Huntington Beach

Alex at Kiddie Park
The West Side Market is amazing!  It's an awesome gem.  The food scene is well developed, and delicious, everything from comfort food, to ethnic foods made by people who really care about good food.  Falafal is a regular part of our diet now.  We don't get out as much as we'd like but when we do there's just about everything you'd ever want.  Momocho, Chez Francois, Lola, Fahrenheit,  and Strip (keep it clean it's a restaurant) are palate pleasers.  Touch Super Club, Hodge's, Flying Fig and some others are on our list once we're able to make it out again.  We also haven't been to the amazing Theater District, and the Art Museum.

We really found that Cleveland is an amazing city that has so much to offer, and rather than dwell on what can be improved we should be proud of what's here.  It is really, really nice!!

Clevelanders are some of the nicest people, but interestingly we organize ourselves by Westsiders and Eastsiders.  For a fleeting moment we considered looking for a house on the East side, but having grown up on the West Side it's completely foreign territory.  If we did that, we might as well move to Europe because we know nothing about navigating the East side.  When it snows here, the East Side also receives at least +1000 inches of snow compared to the West Side. Even Dr. Dre points out in his song California Love, "Let's show these fools how we do this on the west side Cause you and I know it's tha best side".  How can you argue with Dr. Dre?   So we're West Side residents.

With all the high points, there have been some low points.  When we first moved here, Nicholas had an extreme onset of severe asthma.  He took many trips by ambulance down to Rainbow Babies due to breathing issues.  It was a really bad and scary time, and we couldn't figure out why this was happening when he had been fine in Chicago with the exception of when he was born and stayed in the NICU for breathing for 17 days.  In our new house, we found that he was severely allergic and asthmatic due to a specific kind of dog.This meant we had to rip out every shred of carpet, and spent thousands putting hardwood floors in.  We also put in a black light system and humidifier in our HVAC system just to ensure his breathing stays on the up and up.  We can't really go to other people's houses if they have pets.  One exposure, and Nicholas spends weeks recovering.  So we really stay in our little bubble as much as we can.  Slowly we're overcoming this obstacle as well.

The best part about Cleveland has been reconnecting with all of our friends and spending great, quality time with our family!  This is a great city that has so much to offer and we can't wait to keep exploring all its great treasures!

The Cherrstroms

Nick at the Children's Museum
Nick at the fishing pond

Alex at the fishing pond.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why We Live in Cleveland - Part I

The Real Story - Part I

The first obvious conclusion is we came for the pierogies.  Anyone...and I mean anyone who has been at the Taste of Chicago with me knows that I will gnaw your hand off if you happen to come too close to my pierogies. We do have great food here in Cleveland but that's not it.

For our family reading this, it's because of you, and you can stop reading about here.

One Friday night in the Fall of 2011, Dan and I found ourselves with two offers on our condo.  A pretty nice situation to be in but not what you think.  Housing prices were down at that point and it was still a buyers market.  We loved our place.  It was a 3 bedroom, 2 bath condo in a 8 flat style building on the Northside just blocks from Wrigley Field.  With 3 boys, we just couldn't live above anyone anymore.  We had been diligently looking all over Chicago.  We had zero'd in on Old Irving, Edgebrook, and some other miscellaneous North side locations.  It's very interesting how a couple's relationship works when you're buying a house.  Dan and I have bought and sold four houses together.  Dan is always the one who comes through with the sense of reason, is not risk averse and picks out something nice.  I am always the one who wants to cheap out, driving the price lower, loves to negotiate, and wants to take a jack hammer to the place and add on 57 bedrooms.  It's an awesome dance that we've done 4 times!

While looking in Chicago, there was this one house that we kept driving by in Edgebrook.  It did not have a front door, and it was very expensive.  Here's what went down next:

I said, "Lets just buy this one." 
Dan's response, "It doesn't have a front door." 
Me, "So, no solicitors will come to the front door.  Sounds awesome. "
Dan's response, "It doesn't have a front door." 
Me, "The side door is right there, close enough to be the front door and the side door.  Look it has a drive way!  A drive way in the city!"
Dan's response, "I am not buying a house without a front door."
Me, "You can put a front door in if it bothers you that much. OK, fine. What should we do then?"

Alex at play
Truth is if that house had a front door, we'd probably still live in Chicago.  I cannot stress enough how much we loved Chicago.  We couldn't find anything that would fit us, and we had this new terrible diagnosis of Hunter Syndrome. Carrying three boys up and down 4 flights of stairs was wearing us out, and we just needed an easier life. We also really didn't know what kind of medical bills that diagnosis would bring.  The first year of diagnosis was the worst.  You're getting used to medicine costs, hospitals, specialists, huge surgeries that require custom apparatus, weekly day hospital infusions, etc. How could we leave our doctors and genetic counselor? Would life in Chicago just be about medical stuff?  We were just totally overwhelmed. We just couldn't find anything that would make us feel good about our future.  

Then we did something extremely gutsy!  Well if not Chicago, then where?  We needed our family and we needed a yard!  Yes, a yard's just what we need to get 3 boys out and running around!

Jack hugging a tree at one of his favorite parks in Chicago

We had two hometowns to pick from Northern California and Northeast Ohio.  I was sleeping at my desk and had just taken on a new role. We didn't have time for a huge move, and some of Dan's family was spread out all over Cali. We started to look in Cleveland. Homes were beautiful and way less expensive, and they had tons of green stuff called grass that wasn't 4 flights of stairs, and 5 blocks away.  My brother tried to get us to look in Tremont, which is an awesome place but we were down with something much more suburban, much more rural.  We just need more room to roam like a herd of cows, and it was clear Cleveland was going to give that to us!  Keep in mind I hadn't lived in Cleveland for 17 years, and this was going to be a great homecoming but a big change for all of us.

So if we were going to Cleveland, how would we get medical care for a rare disease?  What about our home health treatments?  Oh, and Dan had a job he loved, doing what he loved in Chicago. I wasn't a factor because I could do my global job from anywhere.  

Dan left his job, his dream job.  So we could move.  Wow!  I don't know many who would do that, this man is one of a kind!

Let me tell you.  He did everything.  He did the whole move.  I was working the day of the move, and was hiding in a home office of a friend while the move was in progress. Dan was downstairs to pick me up from work that day. My friend had to literally push me out the door.  All I had to do is jump in the car, and go off on our new adventure.  He picked out our house, with a little input from me. It has a front door!!  So that's good.  

When we got to Cleveland, he didn't have a job for six months!  These six months were some of the best months of my life, and the kids' lives! For the whole first year, I was gone 90% of the time traveling internationally to 4 different countries. He took care of everything.  When I was home, and working countless hours, he would make and deliver lunch to my desk!  I cannot cook anything so this is priceless. Those of you who have a parent who stays at home, you know what I am talking about!  It's a thankless job, but it makes life incredible.  He was one of the most motivated job seekers you'd ever see, he landed a great job, his love, in just a few short months!  

With his always direction-ally challenged wife, Dan found his own way around our new surroundings.  He would always say, "didn't you live here before?", and I'd say, "no, this was a cow pasture when I lived here."

We're celebrating our 2nd anniversary in our home in Cleveland!  In Part II, we'll talk about what we found when we settled into Cleveland!

The Cherrstroms